Lisa Hale enjoys helping students explore, develop, and deepen their novels for young readers. Lisa earned an MA in English with a creative writing emphasis from BYU, where she now teaches creative writing and composition courses. She wrote the Creative Writing course for Independent Study, covering personal essays, poetry, and fiction, and has published in several children’s magazines, including Spider and Highlights for Children. Her workshop group shares writing prompts and information at mmssociety.blogspot.com.
And also, the girl knows what she’s talking about. When she speaks, everyone listens.On Sunday I made asparagus soup. It wasn’t my usual 4-ingredient, 5-step recipe. It was more complicated, more gourmet.
The recipe told me to remove and discard the woody bottom portions of the asparagus (standard procedure) and to snap off the tender tips to add to the soup later (also standard procedure), but then it told me to peel each asparagus stalk. I almost didn’t follow this step—the stalks were already as thin as pencils—but I didn’t want the soup, after so much work, to be spoiled by a missed step. I didn’t want crunchy asparagus.
(Incidentally, it takes a long time to peel two pounds of asparagus, but the airy piles of thin, dark green curls are much more poetic than sludgy piles of potato peels.)
I wanted to come up with a metaphor for how cooking is a lot like writing. There is a sequence of events—sweating the onions, carrots, and celery before coating the mixture in spices and adding the vegetable stock, peeled potato, and snips of asparagus stalk. I thought there might be some profound connection between bringing the soup to a boil (to kill bacteria) for a moment before turning it down to simmer slowly (to let the flavors meld). And maybe there could be something said for how, sometimes, you remove half of the soup and puree it to thicken the soup, while retaining the lovely floatiness of the original: bits of carrot, shredded potato, asparagus chunks, mustard seeds all swirling around in your spoon.
I contemplated the possible connections between cooking and writing for a few minutes, and then determined it was beyond my current brainpower/interest/attention span.
But today, while I was walking across campus, I remembered my asparagus soup. Specifically, I remembered the way the grated potato floated in the mixture alongside the thyme and mustard seeds. I remembered the layers of tastes and smells. The different textures. And I thought, a good novel is a lot like good soup. It takes time, quality ingredients, care, order, balance, contrast, and when it’s done just right, it makes you remember it—crave it, even—days, months, years after eating that first bowlful.
That’s the kind of writing (and cooking) I aspire to.